Monday, April 16, 2012

Managing Polarization

Most brands try to be plain vanilla and not upset anyone. These tend to be the brands that can technically sell to everyone. I remember my first job interview out of college in 1991 was to sell copy machines. I went on a ride along with the Sales Manager who wore a polyester suit (I knew I wasn't taking any job offer because I don't work for Polyester people) and we went to a road with businesses and knocked on every door. Because every business could use a copy machine.

But some brands are willing to risk being polarizing. Walmart, FRS, Jockey, Chick-a-Fila, Nike have either made choices or decisions that risk alienating a portion of potential customers. Sometimes it is damage control like for Nike do they drop Tiger Woods after his womanizing scandal and risk losing him to a competitor when he regains grace. Others like Jockey and FRS decided to use Tim Tebow prominently in their advertising. To Walmart with their questionable employment practices. To Chick-a-Fila who refuses to be open Sundays and supports anti-gay groups. I know I chose brands I have issues with being myself secular and progressive. Plenty of Brands have to deal with environmental issues, animal cruelty, conservative or progressive positions that alienate portions of the population.

Most of us have no idea if most brands do things that upset us or not. But we do vote with our wallet when we do know these things. And if you make a decision to be polarizing you have to plan properly.

1] First analyze the choice. Can you afford to alienate a portion of your potential customer base? Will the loss of sales be made up for by the sales you gain? If the answer is yes the rules of Finance - Net Present Value (NPV) say yes make that decision because it will maximize your return.

2] Social Media - the elephant in the room. You also have to deal with attacks on Twitter, Facebook and Blogs as well as private emails and word of mouth. In the past Brands could put their head in the sand and make believe no on cares. Now it is possible there can be a landslide of chatter beating down on your social media team. What do you do?

  • Don't respond to the negative chatter individually. You will lose this battle.
  • Do think about posting a statement supporting your decision on your website.
  • Focus on your products and why they benefit me. Maybe your case can be  so compelling I have to stay or become a customer.
  • Create a listening program to monitor positive vs negative chatter and be prepared to change course if your sales dip. The key is as long as your sales growth is larger than your loss stay the course. But you must have a plan to manage this decision if it goes wrong.
  • Lastly do you need to be polarizing? Why did you make this decision? Could choosing to not be have been a better choice?

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